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No. 3 seed Maryland men’s lacrosse NCAA Tournament round one preview: Vermont

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The Terps will look to start their NCAA Tournament campaign on a strong note.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Baffling rankings aside, Maryland men’s lacrosse has a real opportunity to leave its mark on college lacrosse history. The Terps NCAA Tournament journey starts at home against a similarly proven but much lower-ranked, Vermont.

Up to now, the 2021 campaign has been kind to Maryland. An undefeated regular season followed by a relatively easy Big Ten Championship victory made the Terps a statistically impressive roster and the only undefeated team in the tournament field.

Though those accomplishments only earned them a head-scratching third seed on Selection Sunday and potentially lead them straight to a second round matchup against an oddly ranked No. 6 Notre Dame squad, it could bring an added incentive for the Terps to make a case as the true number one team in the nation.

Maryland will be debuting in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday at College Park. The competition will be airing on ESPNU at 2:30 pm.

Vermont Catamounts (No. 15)

2021 Record: 9-4 (7-2 America East)

Head coach Chris Feifs is currently enjoying the best season of his five-year tenure at Vermont. After four eventful years of roster building and record breaking, Feif’s Catamounts finally struck gold in 2021. With a roster that features four first team All-Conference athletes, Feif won Vermont its first regular and postseason America East men’s lacrosse championship in program history.

As a former Terp himself, Feif was the first scholarship athlete from North Carolina to play lacrosse at Maryland. He reached the NCAA semifinals with the Terps in 2005 and 2006 and led as the team’s captain during his senior year. His staff also features another familiar face in Jake Bernhardt, who’s served alongside Feif as an assistant coach since his debut in 2017 and also played as Maryland’s team captain in his final two years.

Players to know

Thomas McConvey, junior midfielder, 6-foot-4, 210 lbs, No. 44. As the leading scorer for the Catamounts, McConvey has blossomed as the offensive centerpiece for Vermont. Leading the team in points (47) and goals (33) has earned the Toronto native a spot on the first team all-America East. His sizable frame and length make him one of the largest attackers Maryland has faced all season.

Tommy Burke, sophomore faceoff, 6-foot-1, 200 lbs, No. 3. With a 72% faceoff percentage, Burke is easily a top three FOGO athlete in the nation. Burke silently carries the team in many ways and the Catamounts might be looking to lean on his ability a little bit more than usual to keep the ball away from Maryland’s offense. Though an otherworldly performance would be required to enter upset territory, nothing is out of the question for Burke’s talents at the dot — especially with Maryland’s faceoff struggles.

“We’re going to need to prepare our wings, we’re going to need to prepare the rest of our team,” Tillman said, “You know we always look at it one on one, three on three and 10 on 10, but, [Burke’s] 72% [faceoff percentage] is very daunting.”

Will Jones, junior defenseman, 6-foot-3, 220 lbs, No. 50. Jones served as the anchor of a Vermont defense that gave up the fewest goals in the conference during the regular season. His 10 caused turnovers are the second best on the team. He’s the only defender for Vermont who made it on either all-conference team.

Strength

Faceoffs. It’s obvious that this will be the primary point of concern for the Terps given their current ailments at the position. At the faceoff X, Vermont is the third best team in the nation with a 68.4% adjusted faceoff percentage. With Burke and their slow-paced offense, the Catamounts can easily take control early.

“So there’s 80 seconds on the shot clock if [Vermont] takes 79 It’ll take 79,” Tillman said, “So we’ve got to do a good job of being buttoned up, not losing our focus. If there’s a restart or we hit the pipe. We need to be able to play another long possession. Then we got to clear the ball. We can’t have silly turnovers on the clear, and all of a sudden play another long possession.”

However, this doesn’t preclude Maryland from opportunities to score on its own. With one of the most efficient offenses in program history and the second best offensive efficiency in the nation, the Terps can effortlessly score in less time, with fewer possessions.

“Sometimes there’ll be ups and downs in games,” Logan McNaney said, “If we’re not winning faceoffs, It’s on us to get stops and get the offense the ball to score. And I think the whole defense takes pride in that.

Weakness

Youth. The biggest shortcoming for this team, aside from its defense, is probably its youth. Vermont is primarily led by a combination of sophomores and juniors, many of whom haven’t played any games of this significance in their especially short college careers as a result of the abbreviated 2020 year. Though in some areas Maryland has a similar problem, with some sophomores who have had fewer games under their belt, it compensates for the lack of experience with veteran leadership on both sides of the field. Though youth is an advantage in the long run for the Catamounts, it’ll definitely be a hindrance against a much more mature, battle-tested Terp team.

Three Things to Watch

1. The Bernhardt brothers will be reunited. Jared, Jake, and Jesse Bernhardt will be gracing the field together on Sunday. It’ll be on a Maryland field that all three of the brothers are familiar with, however, Jared will be the only one to play between the lines. His brothers, Jesse and Jake, will be patrolling the sidelines as assistant coaches for Maryland and Vermont, respectively. It’ll likely be the first and last time the three will be meeting like this, but Tillman believes the competitive spirit between the three won’t be lost.

“Obviously there’s always going to be brotherly love and those strong relationships but there’s also a competitive side too,” Tillman said, “there’s that competitive side that is always going to be there and I think that’s just part of the makeup of the Bernhardts.”

2. Will the Terps be able to capitalize on their home-field advantage? The last time Maryland played at home, they were promptly vitalized by the crowd in the game's lowest and highest moments. They served as encouragement when the Terps faced a deficit and were equally energetic as Maryland took off to an eventual double-digit lead. In a playoff game, home-field advantage can be especially crucial for a Terps team that’s notorious for slow starts.

3. How will Maryland fare against a non-conference opponent. It’s been quite some time since Maryland has played any competition outside of the conference. After playing every Big Ten team twice and the last two teams in the Big Ten Championship run three times, it’s possible Maryland hasn’t had to face an opponent this new since the beginning of the season. The Catamounts bring size and length similar to Rutgers and play with an offensive pace much similar to Ohio State. Though the prospect of seeing a new opponent seems inviting, it could introduce a host of problems if the Terps aren’t on their toes and fully prepared by the time the first whistle sounds. It’s clear they haven’t faced an opponent like Vermont in over a year.

“They kind of definitely have a Canadian presence on their team, probably more than we’ve seen all year in the big time there’s not as much of a Canadian presence,” Matt Rahill said, “they’re a tough group, they play hard. They’re tough off the ground. And they’re going to try and just grind the possessions down and tire out. They’re simple but they’re good at what they do.”